Czech women may finally be able to decide about their own surname

After years of heated debates, Czech women may finally be able to make their own decision about the form of their surname. On Tuesday the Chamber of Deputies approved an amendment to the law on birth registers, names and surnames, allowing them to drop the ending –ová and use the masculine form instead.

Most Czech female surnames typically end with the suffix –ová, which denotes the grammatical gender. That’s why Mr Novák’s daughter and wife are not called Novák, but Nováková.

The current legislation only allows women to drop the suffix –ová if they are foreign citizens or have a foreign nationality, if they live with a foreigner or have temporary residence in a foreign country.

Most Czech linguists support the current practice, arguing that the ending-ová is an essential part of Czech grammar which should be respected by the official codification. They also point out that ditching the suffix may lead to confusion in communication.
But despite the logics of linguistics, there has been a growing trend among Czech women to ditch the ending in favour of the shorter, masculine form of the name.

The proposal that would allow women to have their say in the matter was put forward by Pirate Party’s MP Ondřej Profant, who has called the current practice discriminating:

Ondřej Profant | Photo: Aktron,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 3.0

“We have carried out our own survey and for example at the registry office in Prague 13, some 28 percent of women asked for the masculine form of their surname. A similar trend can also be observed outside the capital. For instance in Břeclav, it was 11 percent.

“This is not an insignificant number and it shows that there is a big group of women who regard this as a problem. And I don’t really care why it is a problem for them. I just want them to have an option to make their own choice.”

On Wednesday, the Lower House finally approved the proposal, with 91 MPs voting in favour of the proposal and 33 against. The new legislation on birth registers, names and surnames still has to be passed by the Senate.

The MPs on Tuesday also voted in favour of issuing identity cards with chips that contain the fingerprint of the owner. Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamáček:

“The aim of this legislation is to adapt the Czech legal system to the European regulation and make identity cards more secure. That’s why we introduced the biometric data.”

According to Mr Hamáček, the new ID cards could start being issued as early as this year. The only exemption will apply to children below the age of six, as well as people who are physically unable to provide fingerprint data.

The Pirate Party also proposed to remove details specifying the gender of the holder from ID cards, making life easier for trans-gender and non-binary Czech citizens. That proposal, however, was rejected.